Four Decades of Advice

I presented the Oberlin Switchboard to nearly 150 seniors between two career center events this past week as a preface to a cool personal bio writing workshop. Basically my pitch was: we’re a not-creepy version of Craigslist! We’re an Oberlin classifieds that goes beyond Oberlin! There are people within the Oberlin community ready to help you with whatever you need but you have to be brave enough to ask!

Part of the event involved a few students reading pieces of the first draft of their bios, and it excited me to no end that every student who took a deep breath and stood up to share their bio with the room had an ask that I could follow up with at least one personal connection right off the top of my head (and given five more minutes, I could probably find at least five more). We left our students with the lingering thought that if they actually wanted help based on the things they wrote about in their bios, they should post them as an Ask on Switchboard. Two students did following Wednesday’s event, and then I passed along one of them on, both internally to some alumni groups and externally on my own social media, and let me tell you, that single Ask became an AMAZING catalyst for conversation.

The Ask was simple: I’m looking for advice regarding law school, and I’m currently interested in labor law and civil rights. I posted on my own Facebook page and Twitter account, then posted a condensed version of the Ask to the Oberlin Alumni group on Facebook.

We had sixteen different people contributing specific advice to the asker: two that did so directly through Switchboard, 12 of which came from the Oberlin Alumni group, and two of which came from my personal Facebook page. Advice ranged from how to plan for law school, LSAT tips, what kind of pre-law school experiences one should consider, specifics on applying to law school (and where the student could consider), how to plan for post-degree work, what kinds of things employers look for when hiring post-law school graduates, and general advice on taking time after school before diving in (and how to know when you’re ready). There were also four explicit offers to chat more, though most everyone who posted is probably open to at least one followup from the asker.

Edit, 9.15.14, 9:15am: as of Monday morning, we had four more wonderful contributors to Simone’s post that all came in via our Oberlin College & Conservatory LinkedIn group. Mobilized community, YEAH!

Edit, 9.15.14, 1pm: as of Monday afternoon, we had two more contributors on LinkedIn, which also now spans not four, but five decades of advice. !!

Edit, 9.16.14, 10am: as of Tuesday morning, we had two additional contributions from Facebook and one more from LinkedIn. That’s 25 helpful awesome alums spanning 50 years of advice from Oberlin graduates from the classes 1964 to 2012.

Edit, 9.17.14, 9:30am: as of Wednesday morning, we have two additional contributions from LinkedIn.

Edit, 9.19.14, 10am: as on Friday morning, we have four additional contributions from LinkedIn, and Simone logged a major success on her post. YEAH!

How it’s working?

  • Look at those stories! Look at that advice. Look at those over four decades of alums! Just LOOK! I’m not planning on law school but I learned a ton about post-graduate trajectories and professional/graduate school from all this advice.

  • Defining quality content and engagement. Switchboard’s giving us community-driven opportunities to start conversations that can enrich every part of what we’re doing with and for our community. Holy goodness. Again, just look.

  • Authenticity in its rawest form. This ask is a better question than I could have ever asked on social media, in no small part because someone who cares about the answers because it’s their life asked it.

  • Advice once, advice forever. Whenever a future Obie starts thinking about law school, this post and all its fabulousness will be here for later. Most every story shared is timeless, and lots of it is relevant to most folks contemplating post-undergrad education, law school and beyond.

How can we improve?

Advice in these smaller, more private communities within communities are still stuck in these smaller, more private communities. If a curious Obie isn’t in these smaller communities, the dots have to get connected. I’m serving as that conduit right now, since I’m doing the megaphone thing on the Asks. Not a perfect solution, but that’s what Switchboard operators do: connect people. But there’s still an educational element in the making here, where we help assure that posting directly on Switchboard is just as easy as posting on a different social media platform.

How can we make this kind of amazing engagement and storytelling happen with every post? Or just more than the ones we post about asking for outside support? Quality over quantity, of course, but I want this flood of support for every person who posts something on Switchboard. That’s when the magic starts to happen.

The future of social here at Oberlin has a lot more to do with letting our community tell us what they need to make their lives better and the rest of the community rising up to help them make it so. And with the overwhelming response to this single Switchboard post, I can say that our community understands and supports such an idea as well.

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